British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638-1660

The Long Parliament

First called by King Charles I on 3 November 1640, shortly after the dissolution of the Short Parliament and the defeat of the English in the Bishops' Wars against Scotland. Although purged and then expelled during the Commonwealth years, the Long Parliament was not formally dissolved until 16 March 1660.

During the early 1640s, Parliament's opposition to the King was spearheaded by John Pym. The King's deeply unpopular advisors the Earl of Strafford and Archbisop Laud were impeached by Parliament at Pym's instigation within weeks of the Long Parliament first assembling. During 1641, a series of reforms were carried out which abolished the courts of Star Chamber and High Commission and other institutions that had allowed the King to rule without calling a Parliament during his "Eleven Years Tyranny". Other archaic and unpopular measures that the King had used to finance his personal rule, such as ship money, forced loans and destraint of knighthood, were also abolished. The reforms carried out by the Long Parliament eventually formed the basis of the Restoration Settlement and were important steps towards the constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy of modern Britain.

The Irish Uprising of October 1641 brought into sharp focus the crucial issue of whether the armed forces should be controlled by the King or Parliament. Charles' disastrous attempt to arrest the Five Members in January 1642 highlighted the extent of the rift, and in March 1642 the Long Parliament decreed that its own ordinances were valid, without the royal assent.

Diminished in numbers when Royalist MPs left to join the King 1642-3, Parliament's numbers were swelled from 1645 onwards by recruiter elections. Disenchantment with the Long Parliament and its entrenched Presbyterian majority grew in the months following the end of the First Civil War when issues that had been at the centre of the conflict with the King began to resurface - criticism this time being levelled at Parliament.

The Army, with the connivance of some Independent MPs, carried out Pride's Purge in 1648 to exclude Presbyterian sympathisers, after which the purged Parliament was known as the Rump. This body governed the Commonwealth after the execution of King Charles and the abolition of the Monarchy and the House of Lords. Army leaders grew impatient with Parliament's slow implementation of radical policies, however, and Oliver Cromwell expelled the Rump in April 1653, replacing it with the short-lived Nominated Assembly.

The Rump met again after Cromwell's death and the collapse of the Protectorate in 1659, and the members excluded by Pride's Purge were recalled in February 1660. This body voted on 16 March 1660 to dissolve the Long Parliament and to hold new elections. The pro-Royalist Convention Parliament that assembled in April 1660 prepared the way for the Restoration.


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